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Research Papers

When Theater Comes to Engineering Design: Oh How Creative They Can Be OPEN ACCESS

[+] Author and Article Information
Ferris M. Pfeiffer

Department of Bioengineering,
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery,
University of Missouri Extension,
Columbia, MO 65211

Rachel E. Bauer, Suzanne Burgoyne, Jennie J. Pardoe

Department of Theatre,
University of Missouri Extension,
Columbia, MO 65211

Steve Borgelt, Sheila Grant, Heather K. Hunt

Department of Bioengineering,
University of Missouri Extension,
Columbia, MO 65211

David C. Schmidt

University of Missouri Extension,
Columbia, MO 65211

Manuscript received December 5, 2016; final manuscript received May 16, 2017; published online June 6, 2017. Assoc. Editor: Kristen Billiar.

J Biomech Eng 139(7), 071004 (Jun 06, 2017) (4 pages) Paper No: BIO-16-1498; doi: 10.1115/1.4036793 History: Received December 05, 2016; Revised May 16, 2017

The creative process is fun, complex, and sometimes frustrating, but it is critical to the future of our nation and progress in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), as well as other fields. Thus, we set out to see if implementing methods of active learning typical to the theater department could impact the creativity of senior capstone design students in the bioengineering (BE) department. Senior bioengineering capstone design students were allowed to self-select into groups. Prior to the beginning of coursework, all students completed a validated survey measuring engineering design self-efficacy. The control and experimental groups both received standard instruction, but in addition the experimental group received 1 h per week of creativity training developed by a theater professor. Following the semester, the students again completed the self-efficacy survey. The surveys were examined to identify differences in the initial and final self-efficacy in the experimental and control groups over the course of the semester. An analysis of variance was used to compare the experimental and control groups with p < 0.05 considered significant. Students in the experimental group reported more than a twofold (4.8 (C) versus 10.9 (E)) increase of confidence. Additionally, students in the experimental group were more motivated and less anxious when engaging in engineering design following the semester of creativity instruction. The results of this pilot study indicate that there is a significant potential to improve engineering students' creative self-efficacy through the implementation of a “curriculum of creativity” which is developed using theater methods.

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The title of the 2015 SEC Symposium, “Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship: Driving a 21st Century Economy,” reflects the current belief that innovation is essential to the U.S. economy [1,2], and that universities therefore need to graduate new innovators and entrepreneurs with the ability to solve sophisticated problems throughout the spectrum of STEM. In fact, a 2009 study published by the U.S. Department of Labor projects that eight of the top ten most sought after employees will require degrees in one or more STEM fields [3].

It can be shown that the creative process is fun, complex, and sometimes frustrating, but it is critical to the future of our nation and progress in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, as well as a multitude of other fields [26]. Part artist and part scientist, successful innovators, and entrepreneurs are fueled by a passion to find a solution, often examining a common problem from several different perspectives from the traditional way of approaching it. The motivation to solve problems using whatever innovative approach is necessary to solve it, can be instilled at an early age and, properly fostered, can help develop students into 21st century creative scientists, engineers, and innovators [7]. It may seem quite unconventional to some, but successful engineers and artists share many qualities particularly in areas of creativity. How this creativity is manifested in the engineer and artist sometimes varies widely. Engineers often create with more tangible materials such as metal and plastic, while artists may create in more abstract ways (e.g., paint, voice, instrument, body, etc.). This divergence in creative expression is due in part to the educational experience of each discipline. By the time most engineers and artists reach undergraduate education they are on very different paths in how they acquire, interpret, and present knowledge.

Society understands and promotes the value of having innovative, creative, self-motivated, and sometimes fearless individuals who can develop unique solutions. We often hear this referred to as “thinking outside the box.” It turns out, that most artists are innovative, creative, self-motivated, and mostly fearless in their craft. Whereas artistic endeavors are expected to be innovative and creative, often other fields are not. Group norms for solving problems adhere around common types of problems, and common approaches to them become the norm. Innovative problem solving is simply the ability and willingness to approach those problems from perspectives that are outside the disciplinary norms. Once a student has developed the ability, the willingness can come from success in solving some of those common problems by using unconventional approaches. To be comfortable and able to do that successfully is a tremendous advantage to the true problem-solving scientist. So the challenges to becoming an innovator are both the ability (skills) to innovate and the willingness to risk the social pressure of approaching problems in ways that may not be in favor by the rest of the scientific community one finds themselves in. Therefore, helping students to learn innovative problem solving has to include experiential learning where they are able to feel what it is like, in a group situation, to approach problems differently and take that risk, as well as the skills to solve the problem itself.

David H. Cropley points out that while technological innovation provides the basis for the growth of a nation's economy, the resulting change in a technology continuously confronts the society with new problems: “It seems axiomatic, therefore, that teaching engineers (and other STEM disciplines) to think creatively is absolutely essential to a society's ability to generate wealth, and as a result provide a stable, safe, healthy, and productive environment for its citizens” [8]. Cropley observes, however, that to date engineering education has failed to integrate creative thinking into its curriculum. Educators have to ask themselves “if we're truly going to teach creativity and innovation, how that integrates with the need to standardize the way we approach problems?” Students have to learn both, but if the faculty and culture they are in clearly prefers the standard approaches, only the students with the least risk aversion will attempt to use the skills of innovation even if all the students possess them. One method of helping students become comfortable with being innovative from the faculty point of view is to help them understand that innovation is meant to help them be better problem solvers. It is not merely for its own sake. That allows them to make a logical connection between innovation and the standard STEM discipline.

What do we mean by “creativity”? In general, definitions of creativity include at least two elements: (1) the thing created must be original, and (2) it must be recognized as useful [9]. Csikszentmihalyi divided creativity into “Big C” and “little c” [10]. Big C creators produce major ideas that change their discipline—if not the world. Little c creators come up with ideas that make everyday lives better. Finding the 2-C model too limited, Beghetto and Kaufman [11] added two additional c's: (1) pro-c level creativity, demonstrated by professionals who have not reached Big-C eminence; (2) mini-c creativity, which focuses on personally meaningful discoveries that may occur while a student is learning.

While not aiming as high as Big C, this study sought to address the lack of creativity instruction for bioengineers, which may lead to exploration of such methods in other STEM fields. Thus, we set out in this project to determine if implementing methods of active learning typical to the theater discipline could impact the creativity of senior capstone design students in the bioengineering discipline.

Senior bioengineering (BE) capstone design students (n = 90) were allowed to self-select into groups (n = 5 per group) based upon capstone design projects pre-identified by the faculty mentors facilitating the class. A subset of these students (three groups; n = 15 total students) were randomly assigned to be in the experimental (E) group. All other students were assigned to be in the control (C) group.

Prior to the beginning of coursework, all students completed a validated survey (Appendix A) measuring engineering design self-efficacy [12]. Self-efficacy is the belief one has in one's ability to complete a particular task successfully. It has been shown to be correlated with actual achievement on that task [13]. The survey (adapted from Carberry et al. [12]) asks students to rate their perceived confidence, success, motivation, and anxiety in completing tasks consistent with engineering design. The tasks surveyed included: (a) conduct engineering design, (b) identify a design need, (c) research a design need, (d) develop design solutions, (e) select the best possible design, (f) construct a prototype, (g) evaluate and test a design, (h) communicate a design, and (i) redesign.

The control and experimental groups both received standard instruction, but in addition the experimental group received 1 h per week of creativity training developed by a theater professor. Appendix B provides a sample of the creativity curriculum weekly activities. This active learning process integrated techniques drawn from actor training, improvisation, and theater of the oppressed [14] with creative problem-solving methods drawn from multiple research-based sources [15]. For instance, a short lecture comparing convergent and divergent thinking was immediately followed by a theater exercise in which the class, divided into two groups, put divergent thinking into action by quickly inventing 40 ways to cross a room. Theater games helped the students develop a safe, supportive environment in which students could begin to venture outside their comfort zones, because unless one is willing to risk trying something new—and making mistakes—one cannot be creative [16]. Theater exercises also enabled students to open their minds, question assumptions, and see things differently, since creativity is more about seeing things differently than seeing different things. Other exercises involved active listening, framing, and reframing their creative problems, using analogies to brainstorm solutions, and evaluating and refining solutions.

Following the semester, all students again completed the self-efficacy survey, and their responses were compared to their own previous responses from the beginning of the semester. The surveys were examined to identify differences in the initial and final self-efficacy as well as to compare change in the experimental and control groups over the course of the semester. An analysis of variance was used to compare the experimental and control groups with p < 0.05 considered significant.

Students in the experimental group reported more than a two-fold (4.8 (C) versus 10.9 (E)) increase of confidence in their ability to perform engineering design following a single semester of creativity education (Fig. 1 column a). Substantial increases in student confidence were seen in other surveyed are as as well, with the exception of prototype development (Fig. 1 column f) and design evaluation (Fig. 1 column g). Additionally, students in the experimental group were more motivated (4.2 (E) versus 0.2 (C)) (Fig. 2) and less anxious (−7 (E) versus −6.2 (C)) (Fig. 3) when engaging in engineering design following the semester of creativity instruction. The only surveyed area in which students in the experimental group were less confident and motivated, as well as more anxious, than students in the control group, was in the area of constructing a prototype and evaluating their design (Figs. 13 columns f and g). Prototyping and design evaluation were not a focus of the class for either the control or the experimental groups, and such tasks were not covered in the creativity curriculum. However, plans are underway to include activities to strengthen these areas in future classes.

Noted psychologist Albert Bandura's theory of self-efficacy proposes that people's beliefs in their capability to achieve a task affect their actual ability to achieve that task—if they have the requisite skills. Bandura points to numerous studies showing that people who rate their self-efficacy high for a particular task will be more motivated, and will perform better, than people with more ability who rate their self-efficacy lower [13]. Self-efficacy theory is very relevant to creativity, since experts point out that a system designed to educate students for the industrial age squashes the creativity out of them [9,1622]. Students are conditioned to believe that they inherently lack creativity do in part to a curriculum which does not provide or support opportunities for divergent thinking, and any approach to creativity education must address this issue and help students to rediscover their innate creative potential [16].

The results of this pilot study indicate that there is a substantial potential to improve engineering students' creative self-efficacy through the implementation of a curriculum of creativity which is developed using theater methods. Further research is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of such instruction. We also intend to investigate if this type of instruction can be deployed throughout other courses along the spectrum of the engineering undergraduate education. This pilot work provides promising initial data which can help refine methods and shows the potential for increasing student creativity using an unconventional approach.

The authors would like to thank Dr. Christine Costello, Dr. Shinghua Ding, Dr. Liqun Gu, Dr. William A. Jacoby, Dr. Raghuraman Kannan, Dr. Shramik Sengupta, Dr. Jinglu Tan, Dr. Allen Thompson, Dr. Caixia Wan, and Dr. Gang Yao for their assistance in serving as project mentors for students in this project.

Appendix A

Please answer all of the following questions fully by selecting the answer that best represents your beliefs and judgements of your current abilities. Answer each question in terms of what you know today about the given task.

Rate your ability by recording a number from 0 to 100. (0 = low; 50 = moderate; 100 = high)

  1. (1)Rate your degree of confidence (i.e., belief in your current ability) to perform the following:
    • (a)Conduct engineering design_______________
    • (b)Identify a design need____________________
    • (c)Research a design need___________________
    • (d)Develop design solutions_________________
    • (e)Select the best possible design_____________
    • (f)Construct a prototype____________________
    • (g)Evaluate and test a design_________________
    • (h)Communicate a design___________________
    • (i)Redesign______________________________
  2. (2)Rate how motivated you would be to perform the following tasks:
    • (j)Conduct engineering design_______________
    • (k)Identify a design need____________________
    • (l)Research a design need___________________
    • (m)Develop design solutions_________________
    • (n)Select the best possible design_____________
    • (o)Construct a prototype____________________
    • (p)Evaluate and test a design_________________
    • (q)Communicate a design___________________
    • (r)Redesign______________________________
  3. (3)Rate how successful you would be in performing the following tasks:
    • (s)Conduct engineering design_______________
    • (t)Identify a design need____________________
    • (u)Research a design need___________________
    • (v)Develop design solutions_________________
    • (w)Select the best possible design_____________
    • (x)Construct a prototype____________________
    • (y)Evaluate and test a design_________________
    • (z)Communicate a design___________________
    • (aa)Redesign______________________________
  4. (4)Rate your degree of anxiety (i.e., how apprehensive you would be) to perform the following:
    • (bb)Conduct engineering design_______________
    • (cc)Identify a design need____________________
    • (dd)Research a design need___________________
    • (ee)Develop design solutions_________________
    • (ff)Select the best possible design_____________
    • (gg)Construct a prototype____________________
    • (hh)Evaluate and test a design_________________
    • (ii)Communicate a design___________________
    • (jj)Redesign______________________________

Appendix B
Creativity Course Assignment: Journals.

Keep a class journal in an electronic format (files or blog). You will write one entry per week, due by noon on wednesdays. The purpose of this journal is for you to reflect on what you are learning in class, particularly the active learning exercises. Reflecting on your experiences is a significant aspect of active learning. For weeks during which you have a reading assignment, you will also reflect on the assigned reading.

When you are reflecting on class sessions, answer one or more of the following questions: (1) What did you learn about creativity during this class session? How did you learn it? Be specific. (2) What did you learn about yourself (e.g., assumptions, worldview, etc.). And/or what did you learn about other people? Be specific. (3) Did you get any new ideas, questions, perspectives, etc., regarding your group project? What stimulated your thinking? For some class periods instructors may give different or additional questions.

When you are reflecting on reading assignments, answer one or more of the following questions: (1) What did you learn about creativity from this reading assignment? Be specific. (2) Did you try any exercises suggested in the text? (In some cases, specific exercises may be assigned.) If so, what was your response? (3) Did you get any new ideas regarding your group project? What stimulated your thinking?

Creativity Class Schedule

Week 1 Aug. 24: no class

Week 2 Aug. 31: no class

Week 3—Wed, Sept. 7: No class

Week 4—Wed. Sept. 14: —

Developing a safe environment which enables creativity: Ensemble-building, Ground Rules. Robinson TED TALK video.

Reading assignment: Sawyer, Introduction

Week 5—Wed., Sept. 21

Active listening

Reading assignment due: Sawyer, Chap. 1, pp. 19–31.

Assignment due: Write individual problem statement. Turn in to all instructors.

Viewing assignment due: Pink Video1

Homework due: Remember to bring your object to class next Wed.

Week 6—Wed., Sept. 28

Opening Mind/Perception

Opening your mind. Perception video.—cyclops, etc.

Reading assignment due: Sawyer, Chap. 2 and 3

Assignment due: bring interesting object

Week 7—Oct. 5

Image theater/assumptions

Reading assignment due: Sawyer, Chap. 4

Week 8—Oct. 12

Convergent/divergent thinking

Week 9—Oct. 19

Reframing

Reading assignment: Sawyer, Chap., 1, pp. 32–48.

Homework assignment due: As an individual, list all your assumptions about your group's problem. Be as detailed as you can. Turn in to creativity instructors and bring a copy to class.

Week 10 Wed. Oct. 26

Generating solutions

Reading assignment due: Sawyer, Chap. 5 and 6

Week 11 Wed., Nov. 2

Generating solutions

Homework assignment due: Analogy exercise. Turn in to creativity instructors and bring a copy to class.

Week 12 Wed., Nov. 9

Evaluating solutions

Reading assignment due: Sawyer, Chap. 7

Week 13 Wed., Nov. 16

Prototype

Reading assignment due: Sawyer, Chap. 8

Thanksgiving break

Week 14 Wed., Nov. 30

Communication/giving poster presentation

Week 15 Wed., Dec. 7

Communication/giving poster presentation

Estrin, J. , 2009, Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy, McGraw-Hill, New York.
Kao, J. , 2007, Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back, Free Press, New York.
Bartsch, K. , 2009, “ The Employment Projections for 2008-18,” Monthly Labor Rev., 132(11), pp. 3–10.
Diamantidis, A. D. , and Chatzoglou, P. D. , 2014, “ Employee Post-Training Behavior and Performance: Evaluating the Results of the Training Process,” Int. J. Train. Dev., 18(3), pp. 149–170.
Houle, D. , 2012, Entering the Shift Age: The End of the Information Age and the New Era of Transformation, Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL.
IBM, 2010, “ Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success,” International Business Machines, Armonk, NY, accessed May 26, 2017, https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31670.wss
Zenios, S. , Makower, J. , Yock, P. , Brinton, T. J. , Kumar, U. N. , Denend, L. , and Krummel, T. M. , 2010, Biodesign: The Process of Innovating Medical Technologies, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Cropley, D. H. , 2015, Teaching Engineers to Think Creatively: Barriers and Obstacles in STEM Disciplines, Routledge, London.
Kaufman, J. C. , 2009, Creativity 101, Springer, New York.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. , 1996, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Invention and Innovation, Harper Perennial, New York.
Beghetto, R. A. , and Kaufman, J. C. , 2010, Broadening Conceptions of Creativity in the Classroom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Carberry, A. R. , Lee, H.-S. , and Ohland, M. W. , 2010, “ Measuring Engineering Design Self-Efficacy,” J. Eng. Educ., 99(1), pp. 71–79. [CrossRef]
Bandura, A. , 1997, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, W.H. Freeman, New York. [PubMed] [PubMed]
Boal, A. , 2002, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, 2nd ed., Routledge, London.
Sawyer, K. , 2013, Zig-Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
Robinson, S. K. , 2011, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, Capstone, Chichester, UK.
Mathisen, G. E. , 2011, “ Organizational Antecedents of Creative Self-Efficacy,” Creativity Innovation Manage., 20(3), pp. 185–195. [CrossRef]
Ng, T. W. H. , and Lucianetti, L. , 2016, “ Within-Individual Increases in Innovative Behavior and Creative, Persuasion, and Change Self-Efficacy Over Time: A Social-Cognitive Theory Perspective,” J. Appl. Psychol., 101(1), pp. 14–34. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Pajares, F. , 1996, “ Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Settings,” Rev. Educ. Res., 66(4), pp. 543–578. [CrossRef]
Sawyer, R. K. , 2012, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Sternberg, R. , 2007, Creativity as a Habit, World Scientific, Singapore.
Zhao, H. , Seibert, S. E. , and Hills, G. E. , 2005, “ The Mediating Role of Self-Efficacy in the Development of Entrepreneurial Intentions,” J. Appl. Psychol., 90(6), pp. 1265–1272. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
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References

Estrin, J. , 2009, Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy, McGraw-Hill, New York.
Kao, J. , 2007, Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back, Free Press, New York.
Bartsch, K. , 2009, “ The Employment Projections for 2008-18,” Monthly Labor Rev., 132(11), pp. 3–10.
Diamantidis, A. D. , and Chatzoglou, P. D. , 2014, “ Employee Post-Training Behavior and Performance: Evaluating the Results of the Training Process,” Int. J. Train. Dev., 18(3), pp. 149–170.
Houle, D. , 2012, Entering the Shift Age: The End of the Information Age and the New Era of Transformation, Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL.
IBM, 2010, “ Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success,” International Business Machines, Armonk, NY, accessed May 26, 2017, https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31670.wss
Zenios, S. , Makower, J. , Yock, P. , Brinton, T. J. , Kumar, U. N. , Denend, L. , and Krummel, T. M. , 2010, Biodesign: The Process of Innovating Medical Technologies, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Cropley, D. H. , 2015, Teaching Engineers to Think Creatively: Barriers and Obstacles in STEM Disciplines, Routledge, London.
Kaufman, J. C. , 2009, Creativity 101, Springer, New York.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. , 1996, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Invention and Innovation, Harper Perennial, New York.
Beghetto, R. A. , and Kaufman, J. C. , 2010, Broadening Conceptions of Creativity in the Classroom, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Carberry, A. R. , Lee, H.-S. , and Ohland, M. W. , 2010, “ Measuring Engineering Design Self-Efficacy,” J. Eng. Educ., 99(1), pp. 71–79. [CrossRef]
Bandura, A. , 1997, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, W.H. Freeman, New York. [PubMed] [PubMed]
Boal, A. , 2002, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, 2nd ed., Routledge, London.
Sawyer, K. , 2013, Zig-Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
Robinson, S. K. , 2011, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, Capstone, Chichester, UK.
Mathisen, G. E. , 2011, “ Organizational Antecedents of Creative Self-Efficacy,” Creativity Innovation Manage., 20(3), pp. 185–195. [CrossRef]
Ng, T. W. H. , and Lucianetti, L. , 2016, “ Within-Individual Increases in Innovative Behavior and Creative, Persuasion, and Change Self-Efficacy Over Time: A Social-Cognitive Theory Perspective,” J. Appl. Psychol., 101(1), pp. 14–34. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Pajares, F. , 1996, “ Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Settings,” Rev. Educ. Res., 66(4), pp. 543–578. [CrossRef]
Sawyer, R. K. , 2012, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Sternberg, R. , 2007, Creativity as a Habit, World Scientific, Singapore.
Zhao, H. , Seibert, S. E. , and Hills, G. E. , 2005, “ The Mediating Role of Self-Efficacy in the Development of Entrepreneurial Intentions,” J. Appl. Psychol., 90(6), pp. 1265–1272. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

Figures

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Student self-reported change in confidence in the engineering design process following a semester using a curriculum of creativity. (columns a–i correspond to Appendix A and the key above).

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

Student self-reported change in motivation in the engineering design process following a semester using a curriculum of creativity. (columns a–i correspond to Appendix A and the key above).

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 3

Student self-reported change in anxiety in the engineering design process following a semester using a curriculum of creativity. (columns a–i correspond to Appendix A and the key above).

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